Palmerston atoll

Imagine a small atoll in the middle of the South Pacific inaccessible by plane or ferry. There is a stunning turquoise lagoon surrounded by numerous motus. Only one is inhabited: Palmerston or “Home Island”. Sixty-four people live on this tiny patch of coral and sand a mile and a half long. They are all descendants of William Marsters and his three wives, or married to one of the descendants. Islanders have to be self-sufficient: solar power provides energy, rainwater gets collected in huge tanks, the lagoon provides fish; the motu supplements with chickens, pigs and there are plenty of coconut trees interspersed between the magnificent mahogany trees that could only have been planted by Marsters the ship’s carpenter. Other food staples have to be imported from Rarotonga by supply ship, which stops by two or three times per year. In return the inhabitants export parrotfish once a year at a value of 15 NZD a kilo at point of sale, the islanders’ return is 2 NZD a kilo!

The only visitors are the occasional sailing yacht that stops here en route from French Polynesia to Tonga. Every time a yacht approaches the atoll, there’s a race between the islanders. Whoever gets to the yacht first has the right to host. Being a host means you bring the “yachties” ashore, feed them lunch, show them around the island and act as their main point of contact. There is no charge for any of this but in return yachties give bits of unused rope, anchor chain, alcohol and tobacco.

We approach Palmerston very early on Saturday morning. Goodley and his son Ned happen to be out fishing and they welcome us and help us tie onto a mooring. They don’t normally act as host so pass on the message to Goodley’s brother Edward who calls on the VHF a bit later and then comes out to meet us along with Arthur, the island administrative officer, who clears us in. They apologise for not getting to us straight away but as it happens we caught them on a busy day: the annual bosun bird (a local delicacy) picking day on a nearby motu.

We are brought ashore and shown around the island. We stop at the local school and meet Rose who is an English teacher on a 4-year visit here. She and Martha (who is from Fiji) are the only two “outsiders” who live here. They both love the island. We meet several other villagers and everyone is welcoming. We are offered lunch, coffee, cake, and ice cream. The kids play with the local kids and can’t be happier.

Back at the boat we are treated to a daily whale show. The atoll is home to a humpback whale colony and right now it is breeding season. Every evening just before sunset they put on a show with plenty of tail flapping, breaching, puffing and rolling around. It’s an amazing privilege to watch this from our cockpit. We also see pods of dolphins that are hunting for fish and several turtles that are looking for a mate.

The following days are busy. We go ashore in the morning and go to school. The kids are welcomed and after introductions the globe comes out and Tyrii explains about our trip and how far we have travelled. There are lots of questions and the boys stay in the junior classroom for the rest of the morning. School finishes at 12.30. The afternoon is spent playing while I chat to the women and Seathan gets stuck in helping fix things. The word gets around that Seathan is a handy guy who can fix things and knows something about electronics and soon there is a list of requests for him to have a look at: a failing washing machine, a faulty TV, a malfunctioning printer at the school, a jammed gas bottle, a broken water pump…

We are the only boat here and it is the most intriguing place we stopped at so far. A sociologist would have a feast here: descendants of Masters’ three wives and their families survive as entities in their own right; all on one small island with all the necessary drama and commotion. It’s fascinating and we don’t want to leave just yet. Tomorrow another boat is expected to arrive: Belgian yacht “Florestan” we met in Aitutaki. At least three Marsters are keen to act as a host so the race is on! Stay tuned for part two ☺

Palmerston atoll

Palmerston atoll

floating motu

floating motu

the reef at low tide

the reef at low tide

a beach all to ourselves!

a beach all to ourselves!

Rehua anchored behind the reef

Rehua anchored behind the reef

It's a bit windier on day 3

It’s a bit windier on day 3

village main street

village main street

William Marsters' original house

William Marsters’ original house

a bit of history

a bit of history

 

the church

 

old and new

 

renovation project

 

the school

  

what a name for a school

  

joining the junior class

  

story time

  

the juniors

  

school’s out!

  

Bill and Caroline, our daily icecream stop

  

with Martha and Matua from the local women’s committee

  

mr Bacon

  

lunch with our host family

  

the kids love the pet pig!

  

Edward’s home

  

mahogany man

  

three whales next to the boat

  

tail of a whale

  

mr turtle

  

venus

 

Advertisements

Aitutaki to Palmerston

Our passage from Aitutaki to Palmerston was 200NM and we expected to arrive in 36 hours. The first 12 hours went perfectly according to plan: a gentle breeze just forward of the beam and average speeds of 7 knots. Then the wind dropped completely and, apart from a brief spell during the second day where we had the sails up for an hour or so, we had to motor the rest of the way. One night turned into two and in the end it took us 48 hours before we pulled up on a mooring just outside this beautiful atoll. We enjoyed the passage for what it was though and marvelled at a totally still Pacific, something we hadn’t experienced so far!

We arrived here at 8am this morning and Goodley and Ned where waiting for us in their fishing boat guiding us towards where the mooring buoys were. A bit later Edward called us on the radio and said he will come and pick us up to go ashore. Can’t wait to find out what it will be like. There are two other yachts here (one German and one American) but both are getting ready to leave this morning so we will be all on our own!

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

When in Rome … The preferred local way of transport is on a scooter: we rent a couple and explore the island. It’s great fun! I’m worried however about driving around without a helmet on and with the kids on the back. It’s what everyone does though and we take it slow. There have been several attempts to introduce a law here to make helmets compulsory but every time the women, who insist they need to be able to wear traditional flower arrangements in their hair, veto it.

The Cooks are celebrating 50 years of independence this year. They are self-governing in free association with New Zealand since 1965. The 15 islands are sprinkled over 2.25 million sq km and make up a land area of just 240 sq km. Aitutaki is in the Southern Cooks and has a lovely relaxed laid back atmosphere. It’s a small island with lots of churches! Religion is a big thing here and on Sunday everything stops and nobody is allowed to work or even go for a swim. It’s quite a nice idea actually and we settle in and relax along.

We meet a fun Australian family with two boys similar ages as ours and the kids have a blast for the next few days. There are lots of activities to be done: snorkeling, swimming, island exploring, beach combing, …

After having checked the weather forecast this morning we are ready to move. There is a good window to sail over to Palmerston island, approx. 200 NM from here. This remote atoll is home to 60 people, all descendants of William Masters. There is no airport, no shops, no hotels or restaurants. The island sees a supply ship only once or twice a year. It was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1774 and named after Lord Palmerston. A century later, in 1863, an English barrel maker and ship’s carpenter named William Masters settled on Palmerston with his three Polynesian wives and started three distinct Marsters (as the name is now spelled) family lines. There is no pass into the atoll but the inhabitants have put a few mooring balls for passing yachts to tie onto. It goes without saying that stopping at Palmerston is very weather dependent. Anyway, we are going to give it a try and if the weather doesn’t allow us to stop we’ll just continue to Niue or Tonga!

The blue lagoon seen from the top of the island

The blue lagoon seen from the top of the island

Exploring Aitutaki!

Exploring Aitutaki!

Local dance...

Local dance…

...and fire show

…and fire show

Kids having a splash at the Pacific resort

Kids having a splash at the Pacific resort

The best way to get around Aitutaki is on a scooter!

The best way to get around Aitutaki is on a scooter!

Picking tomatoes at the organic fruit and veg shop!

Picking tomatoes at the organic fruit and veg shop!

From French Polynesia to the Cook Islands

We’re in Aitutaki… After having spent more than 3 months in French Polynesia we’re back in English speaking territory and it feels strange and somehow less exotic. The Cook Islands are independent but freely associated with New Zealand. The natives speak with a kiwi accent and the NZD is the official currency. These islands are famous for being welcoming and friendly and we certainly notice this when we check in and meet the various officials here in Aitutaki.

Our four-day crossing from Bora Bora was very enjoyable. The first 24 hours were a bit slow and then the wind picked up and we started making some good speeds averaging 8 knots. We even had to slow the boat down and stand off on the last night to avoid arriving before daylight. The pass into Aitutaki is one of the toughest so far: it’s a narrow and shallow (1.4 metres in places) entrance channel with strong currents. The anchorage area itself is tiny: there’s only room for a few boats so we had to tie a stern line to a palm tree and wedge ourselves in between Toucan and a small monohull that were here before us. As soon as we were anchored a local official from Port Health came over and told us to keep the Q-flag up until he had been on-board to inspect our boat and spray it against insects. After that was done we were allowed to hoist the Cook Island flag and go ashore to customs and immigration. Finally, another official from another health department (“Bio Security”) had to come on-board to check all our produce and to confiscate any fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. Everyone was very friendly and efficient and as long as you pay all the fees there don’t seem to be any problems…

red sky in the morning ...

red sky in the morning …


navigating through the channel

navigating through the channel


kids on the lookout going through the channel

kids on the lookout going through the channel


view from our cockpit in Aitutaki

view from our cockpit in Aitutaki


the anchorage in Aitutaki

the anchorage in Aitutaki


happy to be on land again

happy to be on land again

Bora Bora to Aitutaki: 100 miles to go …

Spectacular day out on the Pacific today, all the blues you can eat! This has been the first crossing we feel we are getting a true taste of how the Pacific should be, long may it last.
We are currently 100 nm ENE of Aitutaki and sailing a tight reach at 8 knots towards the north of the island, our only issue is our ETA, which at around 2200 hrs, means we either anchor off, or stand off the pass until daylight, the breeze is forecast to drop out so we will take all the miles we can whilst the sun is up.
Aitutaki has room for only two catamarans and we know for sure there is already one there plus a small mono-hull, it should make for some interesting parking!
So we are looking forward to meeting the new regime, out of France and into New Zealand in 500 miles, lets hope they are as welcoming as the reports we read and that they don’t confiscate all our fresh produce.
We dropped a new lure off the back of the boat yesterday, wire trace, 70kg line fresh off the spool, lots of superb knot tying and it was ripped from the line in 20 minutes, we really must re-evaluate our expectations and start fishing with smaller lures. Rehua out.

Never leave port on a Friday …

We were all ready to go on Wednesday (checked out, provisions done) and happily went to happy hour drinks that evening knowing that all we had left to do the next day was to fuel up… But by the time happy hour drinks were over, the weather had changed completely and the floating dinghy dock had turned into a hellishly jumpy platform. We were soaking wet getting back to the boat and had a restless night’s sleep as Rehua was bouncing around its mooring alongside with all the other yachts in the anchorage. On Thursday morning the weather didn’t look any better and there was no chance of getting tied on to the diesel dock in those conditions. Toucan kindly lent us their jerry cans and we filled our tanks slowly with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in very lumpy conditions. It took Seathan and Tyrii (who was a great little helper) the best part of the morning to get the job done. Toucan left after lunch but we decided to wait for the weather to calm down. I also had food poisoning a few days ago after eating a chicken salad in a local snack bar. Although I recovered, my energy levels were still low. One more decent night’s sleep would surely do the trick. And as if our minds weren’t made up already: two other kid boats arrived after lunch. The kids haven’t had much opportunity to socialise lately so we felt it would be good to give them a chance to play and hang out with other kids. And they did! All afternoon and all evening!

And today it is Friday. The weather has calmed down and the swell has reduced. But it’s Friday. You know that saying “Never leave port of a Friday”… We’re not superstitious but we are sailors after all. And the weather is predicted to calm down even more today. We just got a report back from Toucan who are on their way to the Cook Islands and the conditions out there are pretty rough, but getting better by the minute.

Seathan also had one more job to do this morning. We had some bad luck at the dinghy dock last night (still the bouncy platform from hell). Our dinghy got entangled with a dive boat that ripped a big hole in one of the tubes. It was a very sad looking dinghy and luckily there were enough other cruisers around to help and tow it back to the boat. The dinghy is all patched up again thanks to our neighbours from Windance who gave us some glue (we ran out recently) that worked with our patches. I still think we’ll be going shopping in New Zealand though ☺

Kids having fun at the MaiKai Yacht Club last night

Kids having fun at the MaiKai Yacht Club last night

Checked out and ready to go!

It’s time to say goodbye to Bora Bora and French Polynesia. We love it here and don’t really want to go but El Niño is keeping us (and all other yachties) on our toes and we need to get to New Zealand before hurricane season starts.

This morning we went to the Gendarmerie to check out and then to the supermarket for provisions. Everything is neatly stowed away and all that’s left to do is to go for happy hour drinks at the MaiKai Yacht Club tonight and tomorrow we set sail to Tonga via Aitutaki and Nuie and perhaps with a stopover in Palmerston. We’re not sure yet about Palmerston as we hear they want us to bring all sorts of expensive supplies (whisky, chain, line…) that cost an arm and a leg in this part of the world (and almost everything is expensive in French Polynesia as they don’t have income tax and all the monies are levied trough import duties).

Anyway… We’ll see where the wind takes us!

A few more pics from the last couple of days:

can't get enough of this view ...

can’t get enough of this view …

nosy fish

nosy fish

can i touch them?

can i touch them?

tyrii snorkeling

tyrii snorkeling

fun on the SUP

fun on the SUP

SUP surfing

SUP surfing

SUP surfing with Rehua in the background

SUP surfing with Rehua in the background

Rehua in Bora Bora with buddy boats Toucan and Bema

Rehua in Bora Bora with buddy boats Toucan and Bema

Bora Bora

It’s still blowing hard! Quite a few boats have set sail for Tonga in the last couple of days but we choose to spend a bit more time in Bora Bora. We have been rushing so much in the last year that we feel we deserve a little break. We also have a couple of longer crossings coming up to get to New Zealand before hurricane season. So there we go: that’s enough justification for a little holiday on Bora Bora!

We go for an off-road 4×4 sight seeing tour around the island and discover some of the history, culture, fauna and flora. There are several World War 2 sites the Americans built in 1942. Some of the lookout points offer breath-taking views and it’s great to see our anchorage from a different vantage point!

We love Bora Bora!

We love Bora Bora!

the clearest water you've ever seen!

the clearest water you’ve ever seen!

no need to dive to check the anchor, you can see it from the boat

no need to dive to check the anchor, you can see it from the boat

looking west, northwest with the pass in the distance

looking west-northwest with the pass in the distance

The 4x4 was needed to get up some very steep hills!

The 4×4 was needed to get up some very steep hills!

steep ride

steep ride

surf's up!

surf’s up!

this is what we had to navigate through! We had to stay very close to the green pylon and then turn right to avoid the reef straight ahead from the pylon

this is what we had to navigate through! We had to stay very close to the green pylon and then turn right to avoid the reef straight ahead from the pylon

rehua in turquoise water

rehua in turquoise water

family shot

family shot

our anchorage

our anchorage

panoramic view over our anchorage

panoramic view over our anchorage

more amazing views

more amazing views

and more

and more

beautiful flowers everywhere

beautiful flowers everywhere

canons brought here by the americans in 1942

canons brought here by the americans in 1942

canon with a view

canon with a view

American canon holder from World War 2

American canon holder from World War 2

roadside view ...

roadside view …

the most famous restaurant on Bora Bora! We stopped by but then decided to go for lunch somewhere else as it was full of american cruiseboat tourists!

the most famous restaurant on Bora Bora! We stopped by but then decided to go for lunch somewhere else as it was full of american cruiseboat tourists!

romantic dinner for two at the intercontinental (not for us unfortunately!)

romantic dinner for two at the intercontinental (not for us unfortunately!)